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The Great Lakes region is blessed with an abundance of water. But water quality, affordability, and aging water infrastructure are vulnerabilities that have been ignored for far too long. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, Michigan Public, Bridge Michigan, Great Lakes Now, The Narwhal, and Circle of Blue, explore what it might take to preserve and protect this precious resource. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Arctic grayling could be coming back to Michigan

An underwater shot of two adult Arctic grayling
Ryan Hagerty
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
An underwater shot of two adult Arctic grayling. The fish were once abundant in northern Michigan but were wiped out in the 1930s by logging and overharvesting.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources DNR plans to stock adult Arctic grayling in select Upper Peninsula lakes this fall as part of an effort to reintroduce the once iconic fish. The Arctic grayling was abundant in northern Michigan until the 1930s when intense logging wiped out its shaded spawning habitat.

The adult fish that the DNR releases will likely not reproduce: because they were raised in hatcheries, they did not imprint on a stream as "fry" (baby fish), meaning they do not know where to return to to spawn. However, the adult fish will give Michigan anglers an opportunity to catch — and release — a unique fish.

The real reintroduction plan depends on fertilized grayling eggs and incubators.

Jay Wesley, a fisheries coordinator with the DNR, said new technologies could be the key to Arctic grayling reintroduction in Michigan waterways:

"There's new techniques on how to restore them, using what's called in-stream incubators. So we actually bring fertilized eggs to small tributary streams where you want to reintroduce grayling and put the fertilized eggs in and let the fry develop there, and then start the population that way."

If the grayling eggs successfully hatch from the incubators into those streams, the fry will remember them as their birthplace and return there to spawn when they reach breeding age. In this way a viable population could become established.

"When we tried restoring Arctic grayling back in the 1980s, we were stocking fingerlings, yearlings, and even adults, and that just didn't work. So the key seems to be stocking them as fertilized eggs," Wesley says.

The adult fish that will eventually provide the fertilized eggs came from Alaskan hatcheries and are now cared for at the Marquette State Fish Hatchery. It's a lot of effort and care, Wesley said, but the species is an important part of Michigan's natural heritage.

"They're an iconic fish that used to be in Michigan, and I think there's a lot of excitement to bring them back and actually be able to go to a lake or a stream in the future and hopefully catch one. They're beautiful fish."

Beth Weiler is a newsroom intern covering the environment.
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